From the Publisher
A Christopher Award Winner
An ALA-YALSA Best Nonfiction for Young Adults Book
Praise for Left for Dead:
“Compelling, dreadful, and amazing.”—VOYA
“This exciting, life-affirming book about war heroics and justice . . . proves without question the impact one student can have on history.”—Booklist
“Well written and well documented … this excellent presentation fills a void in most World War II collections “—School Library Journal
“Young readers . . . will no doubt be inspired by the youth’s tenacity—and by the valor of those who served on the Indianapolis.”—The Horn Book
One voice can change the course of history, or at least how it is remembered. When the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in the Pacific, more than 1000 survivors were left floating in shark-infested waters. Five days later, only 317 remained, the rest having succumbed to dehydration, sleep psychosis, exposure, or shark attack. The Navy had failed to send rescue to the worst disaster in its history and then court-martialed the ship's captain to cover its mistake. The one voice belongs to Hunter Scott, whose middle-school history fair project shed new light on the tragedy, drew the attention of Congress, and ultimately resulted in the posthumous pardon of its shamed captain. The story of Hunter's crusade for justice makes the truly gruesome first-person accounts of those five days in the water bearable, resulting in one riveting read.—Angelina Benedetti, "35 Going on 13," BookSmack! 8/19/10
Left for Dead by Pete Nelson explains how the research of 11-year-old Hunter Scott who was inspired by a passing reference in the movie Jaws uncovered the truth behind a historic WWII naval disaster aboard the USS Indianapolis and led to the reversal of the wrongful court martial of the ship's captain. A full-color photographic inset and a preface by the now 17-year-old Scott round out the volume. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This remarkable true account of a young boy's fight for justice on behalf of a group of World War II survivors of the greatest naval wartime tragedy is at once appalling, gripping, and uplifting. From the descriptions of the men who fought off sharks in the ocean to the accounts of commanding officers who defended the Navy's stance, the first person statements and photographs make this an all together unbelievable war story. At age 11, Hunter Scott set out to research the June 30, 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis for his history fair project. Pete Nelson recounts the story of the attack on the Indianapolis as well as Hunter's quest to correct the unjust court martial of Captain McVay. After winning the local competition in the spring of 1997, the project was displayed in the Pensacola office of Hunter's congressman, where crowds of World War II veterans gathered to see it. National exposure of Hunter's work on Tom Brokaw's weekly "American Spirit" segment gave momentum to his mission to correct the injustice. Hunter's perseverance in the face of considerable resistance on the part of the Navy and U.S. Government presents a mighty example of honor. The narrative is probably too graphic for the very young, but perfect for young adults searching for real life adventure and aspiring researchers in sixth grade and above. 2003, Delacourt/Random House, Ages 12 up.
Rosemary A. Chase
Thanks to the curiosity of a Florida sixth-grader, Hunter Scott, crew members of the ill-fated World War II ship USS Indianapolis had the opportunity to reveal to Congress truths about the ship's sinking and the captain's unwarranted court martial. In the preface, Scott, now in high school, explains how viewing Jaws proved the catalyst for a History Day project and a lengthy journey toward justice. Some of the chilling statistics associated with Captain McVay and the rapid sinking of a torpedoed ship near the end of the war include countless shark attacks, 5 days in treacherous waters, and merely 317 survivors from a crew of 1,197. Nelson borrows letters, photographs, translations, and research notes from Scott to chronicle how a school project uncovered untruths, righted a wrong, and returned reputation to a dedicated seaman. The tale is compelling, dreadful, and amazing. Photographs illustrating faces of young adults, who in 1945 faced horrors unspoken for decades, contrast with their pictures as near-octogenarians given voice by Scott's inquiry. Unfortunately, Nelson does not footnote or index the volume—an irony given the competition's demands for documentation. Narrating Scott's process in ferreting out the truth deserves specific documentation, as do readers. Nelson's prose is fluent, at times poignant; thorough documentation would not mar it. Readers might also appreciate more glimpses of primary sources—the letters, transcripts of interviews, and more—crucial elements of History Day projects compiled by middle and high schoolers. Maps and photographs are meaningful additions to this tribute to inquiry and its astonishing reward. Photos. Maps. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J S (Readablewithout serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Delacorte, 180p,
Patti Sylvester Spencer
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) and the subsequent injustices connected with that wartime tragedy just will not go away. Several recent titles, nearly all of them bestsellers, confirm the public's continuing fascination with the case. When the heavy cruiser was ambushed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the waning days of WW II, the warship was but one of more than 400 US Navy vessels destroyed during the war. Out of all those unfortunate captains, however, the commanding officer of the Indianapolis was the only one to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship. Widespread suspicions that the Navy's high command made Captain Charles McVay a scapegoat for its own egregious blunders have continued to the present day. What sets this book apart from the others is its straightforward and unadorned style, the result of its origin in a middle-schooler's curiosity. Eleven-year-old Hunter Scott stumbled across the story of the naval catastrophe while he was learning basic research techniques from his graduate student father. The relative scarcity of information on the subject soon intrigued both father and son, and led them to attend a reunion of USS Indianapolis survivors. The younger Scott interviewed the graying sailors and put together a highly successful project for his school's History Fair. This in turn resulted in collaboration with a professional writer and hence to the present volume. Pete Nelson was wise enough to cast his narrative at a basic level that will entice younger readers yet not bore most adults who pick up the book. He recounts the tale from the first-person viewpoints of several of the youthful sailors who managed to survive the disasteronly to suffer tropical sun, thirst, shark attacks and a shamefully delayed rescue attempt. To be sure, the whole shameful episode was nowhere near as "hidden" and "obscured" as the researchers make out, but neither had the Navy ever encouraged publicity about it. The book is far from impartial, and Nelson overlooks none of the drama and pathos, but it is a good way for intermediate students to make their first foray into serious history. KLIATT Codes: JSRecommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Random House, 201p. illus. bibliog. index., Ages 12 to 18.
Raymond Puffer, PhD.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-World War II aficionados will find this title both interesting and, at times, appalling. Nelson essentially relates two stories at the same time. One is of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Alternately, he tells of a junior high student's crusade to exonerate the wrongfully court-martialed captain of the ship. In the preface, Hunter Scott relates how, as an 11-year-old, his curiosity about the Indy was piqued by a shark story in the movie Jaws. While seeking more information about it, he learned of the gross errors and oversights that effectively doomed the ship by sending it directly into the path of a Japanese submarine. The U.S. Navy was not willing to admit that anyone except Captain McVay made any errors. The author describes the horrors the survivors endured as they waited for four and a half days to be rescued, which came about only because of an accidental sighting. The text also describes how the combined efforts of Scott, several of the survivors, national media attention, and several members of Congress posthumously exonerated McVay of any charges. The text is well written and well documented. Navy portraits and present-day photos of the survivors are included, as is a second section that shows the Indy, a map of the Pacific and the scene of the attack, and people who helped Scott. This excellent presentation fills a void in most World War II collections.-Eldon Younce, Harper Elementary School, KS Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
On July 30, 1945, after transporting the atomic bomb to Tinian for the Enola Gay, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in shark-infested waters and sunk. In the largest wartime loss of life for the navy, 880 of the ship's 1,197 men found themselves in the water, 250 miles from the closest land. When they were eventually rescued, only 317 men had survived. How had it happened that a ship as important as the USS Indianapolis had been unescorted in waters where Japanese submarines were known to lurk, and Captain McVay had not been notified? Why was Captain McVay court-martialed, when accountability clearly extended beyond his role as captain? Nelson is telling two stories here: the wartime story of the USS Indianapolis and the story of Hunter Scott, a young boy doing a history project for school. Scott got interested in the Indianapolis after watching Jaws with his dad, and a character in the movie tells of the Indianapolis and the shark attacks on the men. Fascinated, Scott chose this as his topic for a history fair. He did research, wrote letters to survivors, and began to feel something was not quite right in the story, that Captain McVay and his officers were more heroic than negligent, and the record should be set straight. The story of the USS Indianapolis is fascinating, and Nelson capably puts that story in the context of the war and the events leading up to it. Less successful is the melding of the two stories of ship and young researcher. The story of Hunter Scott sandwiches the war story, but it is important in its own right, and Scott, along with survivors and a congressman, plays a key role in the exoneration of Captain McVay. As engaging as the best historical fiction, this willappeal to any reader who likes history and a good story at the same time. (photographs, maps, bibliography) (Nonfiction. YA)
Read an Excerpt
The horror has seared my mind like a hot poker and I cannot forget it. After fifty years the dates and faces have lost their distinction, but the horror never gives way. The older I get, the more it bothers me. I can still hear the screams of the injured and dying.
Cozell Smith, 1994
The sailor finds himself swimming in the open ocean, wondering in shock how it came to this so suddenly. It's just past midnight. He'd been sleeping above deck, because it was too hot below and it smelled of sweat and bad breath and dirty laundry. He woke up at eleven-thirty, half an hour before his turn to stand watch. He went to the mess hall, grabbed a cup of coffee from the fifty-gallon urn and took his coffee topside. A quarter moon appeared briefly in a break in the clouds, high overhead. Now it's dark. He looks up, straining to see the moon. There's no light. The last light he saw was his ship on fire, flames, smoke, mixed with the horrible sounds of men screaming.
"I can't swim!" the man hanging on to him shouts.
The sailor wonders how they could let a man who can't swim join the navy. The sailor's name is Cozell Lee Smith, but they call him Smitty. The man whose life he's saving is named Dronet. Smith has no life jacket. Dronet has no life jacket. Smith has already warned Dronet not to get scared and grab him around the neck, that he'll leave him if he does. He'll save Dronet's life if he can, but if he has to, he will cut him loose. He's already tiring. He's a strong swimmer, but Dronet is heavy, weighing him down.
Smith swims. He gets a mouthful of seawater. He spits, coughs, keeps swimming. He inhales fumes and feels sickened by them. He hears screaming. He wonders how many others there are. He can't see a thing. It's too dark. He can't tell what direction the screaming is coming from. He strains for breath and accidentally swallows another mouthful of seawater, but it's not just seawater. It's fuel oil from the ship's ruptured tanks, thick and gooey. Instantly he's covered in it. It goes down his throat. More fumes. He feels sick and retches. He pushes his vomit away from him in the water. Dronet is coughing.
"What is it?" Dronet asks.
"Oil," Smith gasps. "Hang on. Keep kicking."
The irony is that if Smith hadn't joined the navy, he might well have been working in the oil fields back in Oklahoma. He'd volunteered at the age of seventeen, fresh out of tenth grade. His father, a barber, signed the permission papers with the thought that joining the navy might keep his son out of the kind of trouble a boy might get into, hanging around in a small town with nothing to do.
He spits. The oil goes down his throat even when he tries not to swallow. The ship burned oil to heat its boilers, which created the steam needed to turn the turbines to drive the propellers, which seamen call screws. It was, for its size, one of the fastest ships in the world, with a flank speed of thirty-two knots. He'd been standing at his watch station in "the bathtub," an antiaircraft battery protected by a circular splinter shield, shooting the breeze with Jimmy Reid, another coxswain from his division, when they heard the explosion. The shock of the blast nearly knocked him off his feet.
"What the heck was that?" Smith asked. Reid said he thought it was a boiler exploding.
"That could be good," Reid said. Smith wondered what could be good about it. "We'll go back to the States for repair," Reid explained.
Then the ship began to list, still moving forward but tilting to starboard, five degrees, then ten. Smith thought it would stop any second, but it didn't, listing fifteen degrees, then twenty. It slowly dawned on him that the unthinkable was coming to pass. They were sinking. Were they? Impossible. Not impossibleit was happening. When the list reached thirty degrees, he climbed down from his position and scrambled to the high side, grabbing hold of the steel cable lifeline that girded the ship. Other men had nothing to grab on to and fell. One man fell backward into the number three gun turret and hit it hard with his head. His head cracked with a sound like Babe Ruth hitting a baseball. That man was dead. A second man fell into the gun turret, and Smith could hear his bones break. The ship kept rolling over on its side until it reached ninety degrees. Smith ran across the hull of the overturned ship. In the dim light, through the smoke, he saw other men scattered down the length of the ship, some running, some standing frozen with fear. He was about to jump off the keel when Dronet stopped him and asked him for help, explaining that he couldn't swim. Now they're together in the water.
A scream. Smith looks around. Where is the screaming coming from? Is a scream something to be avoided or approached? He swims. Smith is tired. His eyes sting from the oil. He looks up. The moon is again breaking through the clouds. He tries not to swallow salt water.
"Kick!" Smith commands.
The screams grow louder. They swim to a group of men, about eight in all.